I think by now we’ve all glumly accepted that a good portion of our entertainment diet is made up of reconstituted ideas. I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes these old idea reboots work well, like that rebooted Battlestar Galactica did in the mid-2000s. Often, they’re just absolute garbage, like the Knight Rider (not to be confused with defunct media company Knight Ridder) attempted reboot in 2008. NBC seems especially fond of these, and recently showed a trailer for their latest attempted reboot, this time based on the old Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell-starring time travel show, Quantum Leap. The trailer seems fine for what it is, at least if you’re willing to ignore what may be the most ridiculously terrible attempt to show what a manual transmission looks like in all of modern television. It’s bad.
[ED Note: Battlestar Galactica was great for two seasons and then utterly jumped the shark, so I’m not sure I give it a full pass. – MH]
I was alerted to this nightmare via a tweet from Friend of The Autopian Charles Brand, but I don’t want to show you the tweet here, because it’ll be more fun if you watch the trailer first and can spot it for yourself. I’m pretty sure that if you’re on this site, you won’t be able to miss it:
Holy shit, right? What the hell is that?
Okay, in case you missed it, somehow, here’s a couple of screengrabs of the shifter as seen in the trailer, stitched together so the whole thing is visible:
The fuck am I even looking at here? What has a shift pattern like that? The only car that comes to mind that used this sort of double-handled-trident shift pattern with a gate would be an oh, lemme think, oh yeah, a 1977 Imagino Unreal GT, an incredible, fast V7-powered grand tourer from fucking Narnia that doesn’t fucking exist, because nothing uses a shift pattern like this, especially a 1983 Ford Econoline as seen in that clip.
Sure, there’s cars with unusual shift patterns out there, like early Porsche 911 five-speeds with that dogleg first gear, or the crazy Citroën 2CV umbrella-handle shifter, but nothing like whatever the hell this is, which would require you to move the shifter down and to the left and then down again to go from first to second, an act as unfamiliar to human arms as feeding yourself with a hand that goes up and over your head and in front of your eyes.
Also, a square-section shift lever? Have you ever driven a car with one of those? Ever? Okay, maybe if you have a Peterbilt with an aftermarket shift lever, or some other aftermarket thing. But I’m still going to wager it’s nothing like what’s in that picture.
Just to put this all in context, the main character is someone that time-travels into the bodies of various people across time in order to right some sort of wrongs or get people to bone or stop historic missteps or whatever. In this trailer, it appears that the main guy has been sent to 1985. I know this because there’s a shot of a theater marquee that shows this:
…and a quick Google search told me that both those films were released in June of 1985. Also, some other sign says so.
The van he’s time-teleported or whatever into is a 1983 or 1984 Ford Econoline, which I’m pretty sure of because 1983 was the first year Ford used the blue oval badge in the center of the grille instead of chrome F O R D letters on the hood. For reference, here’s the Econoline in the trailer:
…and here’s a 1983 Econoline in Club Wagon trim, with a similar paint scheme to the van in the trailer:
Now, a manual Econoline is a rare beast; the vast majority came with automatics, and a stick shift one is rare enough that I actually wrote about how shocked I was to see one for sale back in 2017. You’re statistically more likely to meet a glassblower who owns corgis and thinks you’re sexy than you are to encounter a manual Ford Econoline.
I guess part of the plot here is that the main scientist, who seems to be from our year of the lord 2022, goes back in time to the 1980s and, ha ha, he can’t drive stick, and yet he must, as he seems to have jumped into the body of a getaway driver behind the wheel of a vanishingly rare manual Econoline. So that’s why they had to make this Econoline into a manual. I get that. What I don’t get is why they prop team did it so badly.
It’s not just that it doesn’t look like an Econoline stick shift setup, as seen above there, because that barely matters: Those are so rare almost nobody really knows what an Econoline manual shifter looks like. The problem is that it doesn’t look like any manual transmission setup at all, period.
Whoever made this seems to have never actually seen a manual transmission, but perhaps had it described to them over the phone, poorly. And then they made more work for themselves. The shifter didn’t have to be gated, because not only is that more work, it’s the root cause of the problem here (that wildly implausible shift pattern), and no workhorse van has a gated shifter.
Why did they bother to make this thing at all? Why did they cut that plastic (maybe metal?) shift gate and make a sticker with the gear numbers on it and put a foam sheet inside it and screw on a bezel with hex-head screws and shove that square-section tube in there like it was a gearshift, when they could have taken a trip to a junkyard, gotten literally any manual transmission shifter from any car, and had that work a billion times better by just plopping it on the floor?
Or maybe they could have just picked some period-correct van that did have a manual shifter? How hard would it have been to get, say, a 1982 Volkswagen Vanagon, for example? Not hard at all. Plenty of those were manuals.
Let’s look at it again:
It makes no sense. It looks like absolute crap, it’s inaccurate to the point of distracting the viewer from the narrative and it was much, much more work than just yanking a real shifter from something.
I reached out to a friend who has done movie prop work, and she was baffled, too. The best answer she could give was that it may have been a last-minute, rush request, and the sloppy, inaccurate work was just the result of it being a rush job. Of course this happens sometimes, but for such a pivotal prop, one that gets some direct focus by the camera and attention, and is a crucial part of the plot, this seems like a huge oversight.
I mean, this same trailer has effects like this:
I’m certain the props team is more talented and capable than this fake shifter shows, but damn.
Nobody caught this in editing or review? How is that possible? Or, more likely, whoever was reviewing this footage either didn’t know what a manual shifter looked like themselves or just didn’t think it was a big deal, figuring it’s close enough, and who gives a shit? Everyone knows what it’s supposed to be, right?
Well, maybe, but there are those of us out there – not an insignificant number – who do know what a stick shift looks like. Saying something this obviously inaccurate is just fine would be like if the script called for a banana, and the props department delivered something that looked like this:
I mean, that’s basically like a banana, it’s generally the right color and texture and has some parts of the shape right, if not everything, but the viewer will know what you mean, right? Is that not close enough?
I think we all know it’s not close enough. Because while it may have some similarities, it’s not a fucking banana. Just like that shifter isn’t a fucking manual transmission shifter.
Details matter. Especially when there’s no reason for the details to be wrong in the first place. The way shifters look isn’t a secret, and real ones aren’t hard to find, after all.
Maybe there’s some complex plot point I’m missing here, like he was sent not just back in time, but they changed the premise of the show so he get sent into alternate universes, and this one is just like ours, except manual transmissions have awkward, stupid patterns and levers with corners.
If that’s the case, my apologies to everyone who worked on this production. You’ve done a bang-up job.
That shifter had to be gated. Otherwise no one could have driven such a thing.
Also, if the van is supposed to be 1-2 years old for the show, why does that that shifter look like it has had 10 years of sun aging applied (okay, ‘80’s FoMoCo, maybe 5 years)
I’ve done some picture car work in films, and set dressing work in another film.
This does not look like a big budget show, and I’d guess they spent as little as possible renting that van from some picture car company – meaning, they took what they could get that ran reliably, was period correct for the budget they had, and could be quickly replaced with another similar one if that one broke down wile filming…
So, no Vanagon. As for the shifter? Someone wanted to make it VERY obvious at a quick glance to an audience of non car enthusiasts that the van was a stickshift, because that’s a plot point in this sequence. The gated dummy shifter may well have just been lying around at the picture car company’s rental prop box, or one of their set dec artists may have made one before in another production and could bang it out quickly so the shot stays on schedule and budget.
This sort of production compromise is super common and has been for ages, like the same VW beetle showing up four or five separate times in the Bullitt chase scene because they used multiple angles of the same car and looped it together to save production time and budget money rather than film more unique footage. Or the cab garage, cab shop, police station, courtroom set, office set and other sets in the old David Morse CBS series “Hack” all being built in the same downtown Philadelphia parking garage ( I rented shop equipment, a lift and set dressing materials to that show as well) .
It also bothers me that they didn’t learn the mistake of the first show. The old shows present (our future) was 1995, the show went off the air in 93 and last I checked still no time machines. Just tell us near future and you can then comment and react to events that occurred 6 months ago but by saying his first leap was this year, it means we are locked in to all events being before today and we have to buy in to the idea that all this tech exists or could. And don’t get me started with Star Treks Eugenics wars.
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I’ve talked to/read about plenty of stunt drivers and the consensus has always been a preference for automatic transmission for driving scenes as it frees up the driver’s hands, so that explains why they used an automatic-equipped van.
But yeah, that shifter is a hot mess and I can’t critisize anyone here for making fun of it because I once saw an episode of a cartoon called “Oswald the Octopus” where a truck got a flat tire and Oswald help put the spare on by literally pulling the tire off the rim and squeezing the new one on. I flipped out. I wanted to call the cops. I covered my kids’ eyes. Damn you, Oswald.